Community News Photo Feature

Jean Hay Bright

Photo by
David Walsh

Hay Bright book raises questions
for Good Life Center
by Sharon Bray
CAPE ROSIER—Shortly before Helen Nearing died in 1995, she established the framework of The Good Life Center when she placed her property under the care of the same Trust for Public Land that handles Thoreau’s Walden place. Now the center is an independent, nonprofit organization.

The Good Life Center focuses on “Advancing Helen and Scott Nearing’s commitment to social justice and simple living, and preserving their last hand-built home,” their literature states.

Forest Farm was the last homestead of Helen and Scott Nearing on Penobscot Bay in Harborside. Scott Nearing (1883-1983) and Helen Knothe Nearing (1904-1995) moved to Maine from their homestead in Vermont in the early 1950s. First they lived in a farmhouse on land they bought on Cape Rosier, later helping to build Forest Farm.

Currently the Good Life Center has a six-member board of directors and a “group of stewards” consisting of about 70 famous and relatively unknown devotees of the Nearings’ teaching and work.

Jean Hay Bright was a steward from the beginning of the center, contributing much volunteer time to the center’s work on “[e]xtending Helen and Scott Nearing’s broad social and political message by ensuring access to their publications, library and personal papers, as well as by publishing new works on related issues” (from the mission statement of the Center). After publication of her book Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life in September 2003, she retired from the Group of Stewards.

In his 2003 fund-raising letter, board member Keith Morton of Rhode Island credits Hay Bright with creating and maintaining the center’s Web site.

In an interview November 23, Morton said the board had no official response to the book, but he felt certain it would stimulate discussion of a number of issues Hay Bright raised. He also said Hay Bright “did stand for election” to the board of directors.

“It was a close vote, but she was not elected this year,” Morton said, adding, “I personally hope she will stay connected. A few years down the road, another vote might turn out differently.”

Morton also said that in his opinion, the book was not the major reason why Hay Bright was not elected, the board having discussed the book very little before the vote.

He described Hay Bright’s committed approach to projects at the center and noted, “People really like working with her energy, or they feel left in the dust by it.”

Morton teaches cultural history at Providence College and said his profession colored his perceptions of the book.

Hay Bright’s facts, he said, are not in dispute, but as a memoir the book necessarily represents one person’s point of view, “an accurate rendering of her perceptions.”

Questions raised by the book, Morton said, include how the board and the center should “share the public face of the Nearings, their human side.” He said Hay Bright’s honest journalism “solidifies some questions” that may not be easy for the board to discuss.

Board member Martin Spahn of Palermo declined to comment, but said, “Personally, I believe in reconciliation. I am not a person to stir the pot.”

Lloyd Wells, a board member from Falmouth, said he was not at the meeting where the vote on Hay Bright’s membership was taken. He said he had read part of the book and believed, after conversation with other board members, that Hay Bright “intended the book to be constructive and informative.” He praised her honesty and said the book is “more subjective of the personal experience than objective of realities.”

A self-educated proponent of “direct democracy,” Wells said he never met the Nearings but holds their teaching in high esteem.

Hay Bright said she preferred not to discuss her relationship with the Good Life Center beyond her retirement and hoping the center would sell her book along with others written about the Nearings and related topics.
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Other Book Reviews for

"Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life"!


WomenWriters.Net,  June 2004

Maine Organic Farmer & Gardener, March-May 2004

Maine Sunday Telegram, January 18, 2004

Rutland Herald & Times-Argus, Vermont, Dec.13, 2003 Review, Nov. 25, 2003

Ellsworth American, Nov. 20, 2003

Bangor Daily News, Nov. 17, 2003

Author Susan Hand Shetterly, Oct. 23, 2003


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